How to build a better afterschool program

Faculty, McNair scholar pair to research common elements of success

| Author: Eric Baerren | Media Contact: Aaron Mills

A Central Michigan University faculty member and a McNair scholar have teamed up to discover what key factors contribute to the success of afterschool programs for Black youth. They hope their findings will inform decisions regarding the structure and funding of existing and future programs.

Gina McGovern, a member of the Human Development & Family Studies department, and Michyah Jones, a McNair Scholar, teamed up with Cortez Watson, Jr. of the Chicago-based Hip-Hop F.I.R.M. to examine research conducted on 30 out-of-school programs. They want to identify common themes across the programs that make them successful.

Gina McGovern
Gina McGovern

The goal is to provide organizers of out-of-school programs with data-supported recommendations for best practices, McGovern said. They hope that philanthropists who donate money for programs can use their recommendations to more effectively target their contributions to focus on beneficial practices for Black youth.

Success is measured in how a program can help foster a safe, positive space for frank, open conversations about race, she said.

Developing a strong sense of racial identity helps elevate Black youth, leading to better educational, career and life outcomes, she said.

Successful programs help guide Black youth toward justice through reflection, connection and action. They focus on youth’s understanding of the historical legacy they’re a part of, bringing it back to “Where you are today as a Black adolescent in America,” and “What is your role in a justice-promoting future?” McGovern said.

Professional headshot of Michyah Jones in a gold cardigan over a black top against a gray background.
Michyah Jones

Program leaders find success in cultivating these connections by fostering safe, positive environments that serve to counteract the anti-Black messages youth experience in school and the media.

The programs look very different from each other -  the organized group activities could involve modern pop culture or media studies, literacy, or STEM, and many were focused on college preparation, she said. The important thing is learning what elements lead to success across contexts.

The collaborative research started in the Summer of 2022 when McGovern and Watson worked with Stephanie Mathson at CMU Libraries to search for available research articles. The following spring, three other CMU students -- Jahnaya Puryear, Kensley Schenkel and Asantou Olarinde – assisted them.

They started reviewing articles by looking for major themes like relationships with staff, belonging and cultural relevance.

Jones joined the project over the summer, and she and McGovern refined the narrative within the data, McGovern said. From the original themes, Jones provided critical work in identifying subthemes.

They are concluding the initial stages of their work and assembling the identified themes. Recently, they received notification that they will present their findings at the Society for Research on Adolescence in April 2024.
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